Several weeks ago, I wrote about a conference that was to take place in North Carolina called the “Wild Goose Festival.” News reports and the advance promo material made it out to be a kind of would-be-Woodstock for Emergent church types. The speaker line-up was a list of progressive all-stars: Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, Tony Jones, and many others. Musicians included Derek Webb, Jennifer Knapp, and others.
I didn’t attend the conference, but someone from The Economist (of all magazines!) did. According to the report, about 1,500 people showed up, and they included “artists and musicians, nonconformists, post-Christians, non-Christians, disaffected evangelicals and a liberal evangelical subset known as the ‘emergent’ church.” It looks like the event turned out to be just as radical as it was advertised—perhaps even more so. Here’s a brief description of what went on:
Instead of Bible studies, there were labyrinth walks. Instead of praise-and-worship music, there was hymn-singing in a beer garden and a bluegrass liturgy presided over by a tattooed female Lutheran minister. Visitors were greeted with buckets of water in which to baptise themselves, and tubs of mud to remind them that “dust thou art”I was . (In Britain, the mud is usually underfoot.) Lecture topics ranged from sex trafficking and social justice to authority in the church and interfaith relations. Visitors could learn from Tom Prasada-Rao, a singer, how to chant “Om” and “Hallelujah Hare Krishna”, or hear Paul Fromberg, a pastor from San Francisco, talking about his 2005 wedding to another man. “God is changing the church through the bodies of gay men,” Mr Fromberg told a packed session on human sexuality. Also under discussion was “religious multiple belonging”—in other words, belonging to a clutch of different faiths at once.
Brian McLaren linked to some pictures of the conference, and looking at them also gives you a good feel of what the conference was about. Frank Schaeffer wrote a piece for the Huffington Post describing what it was like to be there with the other conference goers:
We understood each other, understood why it was a big deal that some of us were gay, open and happy in spite of everything, understood why some of us still wanted to follow Jesus, even though the world we came from — far right, hate-and-fear-driven wacko religion — had done its best to turn Jesus into Attila the Hun and/or Michele Bachmann.
There were several open discussions of gender and sexuality at the meeting. Tony Jones describes the impact these discussions had on him:
Based on my experience on this blog and at the Wild Goose Festival, a lot of Christians really want to talk about sexuality; and… many Christians are ready for our conversations about sexuality to expand beyond “what to do with the gays,” and instead have a more fully-orbed dialogue about sexuality and human identity. I also know that, for the first time in my life I’ve met Christians who are in “open” marriages or are practicing polyamory — and I’m committed that my theological/ethical response to them be both Christian and pragmatic/realistic.
I think that Tony Jones’ remarks may be the saddest of all. He has not only reaffirmed his support for gay relationships among Christians. He has also spoken of open marriages and polyamory as faithful expressions of what it means to follow Jesus.
I think these articles tell you everything you need to know about the “Wild Goose Festival.” It’s by and large former evangelicals leaving the evangelical faith for a mess of pottage known as theological liberalism. As Machen argued nearly 100 years ago, liberal Christianity is no Christianity at all. And therein is the tragedy.
UPDATE: I just found out that Christians for Biblical Equality planned to have a booth at the Wild Goose Festival (see here, here, and here). I can think of a number of CBE’ers who will not appreciate this association. What I am wondering is who at CBE thought this would be a good idea.
[Image Credit: Adam Moore]